After 40+ years in the public relations industry, Pennie Rorex, chief marketing consultant at Rorex Marketing Solutions, is preparing to close the book on this chapter of her life. Later this year, she’ll retire from her long PR and marketing career to focus on other passions, including hosting themed parties and events for friends and family.
It’s an interest she’s peppered into her career as well. Pennie remembers the biggest budget event she helped a client put on was San Francisco-themed. She even coordinated having a 150’ long Golden Gate Bridge built out of thousands of gold balloons, and a sound and light technician to simulate an earthquake.
Wherever retirement takes her, though, Pennie simply wants to spend quality time with others as she will no longer face deadlines — something she’s become accustomed to for the past four decades working in communications.
From hospitals to county fairs
Pennie’s career began with the state legislature of California, where she worked for an assembly member as well as a state senator. Her work on healthcare legislation led to a PR and marketing career in the hospital industry. In fact, a good chunk of Pennie’s career was spent in healthcare marketing and PR.
In the mid-1990s, Pennie decided to venture out on her own after the hospital she worked at started looking for ways to cut costs. She submitted a proposal requesting the organization take her off the payroll and utilize her as a contractor instead.
They agreed, and PR consulting was born.
As Pennie reflects on her career, she notes her two focus areas that were total opposites: healthcare marketing and county fairs.
“They have nothing to do with one another, and actually, that is refreshing,” Pennie says. “Healthcare marketing is pretty heavy, so after hours of my day writing about cancer and children’s grief support, I’d switch gears to something lighter and fun. Publicizing and marketing cotton candy and celebrity concerts was so refreshing. It was a good balance for me emotionally.”
At one point, Pennie took a break from her solo life and went back to work for one of her clients. That’s when she became embedded in corporate communications at the highest level and experienced one of the most challenging parts of her career: when the nonprofit hospital she was employed at was in the process of selling to a for-profit corporation — she was one of only a handful of employees to know about it for two years.
“Going from a nonprofit Christian-based community hospital to a Fortune 500 corporate-owned hospital basically overnight was a culture shock,” Pennie says. “I learned in the three longest years of my life that working for a for-profit corporation was not for me.”
So, Pennie decided to launch Rorex Marketing Solutions, which is where she’s been for the past six years.
A woman in charge of her life
“I love controlling my own destiny,” Pennie says of owning Rorex Marketing Solutions.
During the pandemic, she learned she didn’t want to work 60 hours a week, which she had done for so long because it was the norm.
Pennie shares that when lockdown began in the United States and the lights went dark on county fairs basically overnight, she grieved for the first month.
“I cried,” she says. “I mean, it was painful. And then the second month of the shutdown, I started thinking, Hey, this is pretty cool. I like this change of pace.”
Thankfully, Pennie was able to continue working with her healthcare clients throughout the pandemic, but the time also made her realize she never wanted to return to her prior work pace.
“I totally altered my business structure in my brain during that time,” she says. “That was probably the beginning of my mental preparation for retirement, which would follow in three years.”
Today, Pennie feels ready to retire but knows she’ll keep busy. Her husband Allen actually has a separate arm of Rorex Marketing Solutions where he sells promotional products. In her retirement, Pennie will help him part time with business development and social media but there won’t be any deadline-driven work for her.
Finding support in the Solo PR world
In her role as a solo PR pro, Pennie has been grateful for the namesake organization, which she joined in 2017 when she went out on her own for the second time.
“Solo PR Pro has been a lifeboat for me,” she says.
Since working for herself means she’s often on an island of her own, having other industry professionals she can reach out to is invaluable.
For example, years ago one of her client’s was involved with an FBI investigation and needed crisis communications, but Pennie felt in over her head. Her first thought was to call Karen Swim for a confidential conversation to bounce around ideas.
“The great thing about that hour-long conversation was the affirmation of my insecure feelings and having another professional say, You've got this. This is exactly what I would do,” Pennie says. “I can't imagine going through the last several years on my own without Solo PR Pro.”
Big shifts throughout a long career
In her decades of experience, Pennie has seen many, many changes in the PR and marketing industry.
“It's been very painful for me professionally and personally to see the decline of the newsrooms that were so robust ,” she says. “I witnessed respected journalists lose their jobs, one after the other. Fortunately, many are now employed as PIOs and colleagues.”
At the same time, she’s also experienced the rise of social media. Pennie recalls setting up her very first social page, which was on MySpace. She then remembers helping a county fair launch their first ever Facebook page.
“There were no algorithms then, so if you posted, everyone following you saw it,” she shares. “To watch the development and transformation of social media has been incredible in my career.”
When Pennie thinks back to her earliest days in PR, she recalls photocopying press releases and putting them in an envelope to physically mail out. Then came the fax machine.
“And wow, within 20 minutes, all the media contacts on my fax list would receive the press release,” Pennie says. “I thought that was so great. My career has come a long way since licking envelopes and stamps.”
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